“A World Ahead”: lessons from my playlists and suitcases

Phoebe Shea Perez - Senegal


October 5, 2018

[Image description: photo of myself at the Orlando Museum of Art in front
of Dan Halter’s Rifugiato Mappa del Mondo]

Packing my suitcase for the next eight months in Senegal brought an
initially incomprehensible sense of déjà vu. For days I was overwhelmed by
the feeling that I had already packed for this sojourn, but the lack of
physical evidence was more than enough to contradict this sentiment.

Before long, I noticed that the familiarity I was sensing was not caused by
the physical activity I was carrying out, but by the ideology leading this
action – which, as I came to discover, had influenced other activities
throughout my life. In particular, I noticed that the thought process
guiding my packing for Global Citizen Year was similar to the one I had
when I made music playlists.

My process of packing was an ironically thoughtful one considering how much
I procrastinated just in getting started. In my suitcases, I made sure I
had with me a couple of my traditional dresses – the cortes and güipiles I
wore all my life in Guatemala and the ones I’ve so devoutly worn to school
ever since I moved to the United States. But I also included newly acquired
thrift shop skirts (long enough to cover my knees in order to adjust to the
new cultural norms), appropriate shoes for my adventures in Senegal, and
lots of space longing to be filled with the textiles and objects from the
place I hope to know so authentically I can’t help but call it home.

As I noticed how eclectic my suitcases were, the connection between my
Global Citizen Year packing and overall playlist-making process suddenly
became evident.

My music playlists have evolved over time into all-encompassing anthologies
of rhythms, languages, and lyrics. In Raíces Universales (Universal Roots),
one of my favorite playlists, I’ve included songs like Vientos del Alma
(Winds of the Soul) by Mercedes Sosa – a characteristic song by the iconic
Argentine folk musician and one that influenced my understanding and own
development of Maya spirituality while I lived in Guatemala. But in this
playlist, I also have tunes such as Je Pense à Toi (I think of you) by
Amadou & Mariam – a simultaneously nuanced and simple song that I stumbled
upon in the middle of sophomore year and that impelled me to learn more
about West African culture and society. In other playlists, like
descubriendo(me) (discovering [me]), I have songs as timeless and sublime
as Ojalá by Silvio Rodriguez and as riveting and invigorating as Tamacún by
Rodrigo & Gabriela.

My playlists are indicative of my strong connection to my land, my
continent, and the cultures I grew up with; but these same playlists also
showcase my interest in learning about other places and peoples, and
civilizations.

In a similar manner, my suitcases concurrently indicate my attachment to my
own Maya K’iche’ indigenous origins and my eagerness to adapt to and learn
to love the unknown and the peculiar just as much as I know I’ll embrace
the familiar and the heartwarming in my newfound community.

In the process of preparing to leave home, I’ve had the beautiful
realization that two of the most important valuables I’m taking with me –
my playlists and suitcases – capture glimpses about my approach to living
among multiple cultures, without feeling like I’m sacrificing my own.

As self-doubt and fear for the future begin to make their way through me,
it feels incredibly reassuring to think that some of the processes I
already comfortably engage with might actually encapsulate lessons
regarding how I can go about this upcoming adventure.

I hope that this year, all otherwise mundane objects and practices can help
me feel grounded in, and engaged with, the new circumstances, new people,
and new facets I discover of myself.

I hope that this year, I can continue to love and embrace the new, while
staying connected to my origins. Even more, I hope that these intentions
remain something I honor not only this year, but also in the ones to come.

Phoebe Shea Perez